The Facebook Blue

I was making a few small edits to the style sheet of my website when a question that often bothered me popped up again. I am quite meticulous when I design (or rather re-design, for I do it over and over again) my website and make sure everything is just as I pictured it. In fact my own opinion is that the reason why so many people have badly designed or overly colourful and almost gaudy websites is either because they do not have a picture of what they hope their final product ought to be like, or because they cannot convert that mental image into CSS coding.

However, a seemingly trivial obstacle one might encounter during such coding is something web designers spend quite some time to understand: the colour elements. Simple probing into queries such as what colour combinations work best on the eyes, how colourful a website should be and what colour/s to use for various website elements will yield as varying a spectrum of answers as the colours themselves. Vandelay Design even has a study detailing the psychology and meaning of colours and how to choose them. The trouble is that this is more an issue of personal opinion than standard or social fact.

In spite of this, a recent study looking into the colours of the Web by ColourLovers, followed by detailed look into how the top 100 sites use their colours, actually gives us a verdict. Blue happens to be the most widely used colour, and, most importantly the colour proved to improve ease of reading and time spent on the site.

What is it with Facebook and blue?

A question I often asked myself was why Facebook was so blue-dominant. And it was not by chance because all the blue used, no matter in which remote corner of some vector graphic icon, was the same tone.

I actually first concluded that it was a tint rather than a tone, but as I inspected the hex colour code I realised it was more a greyed down version. I call it the Facebook Blue and it has the hex #3B5998.

For the reader who is unaware of tints and tones: there exist, in art, four styles of colouration of the basic colour wheel consisting of the basic/original colours (called hues.) This is a stage that comes even before mixing two colours to obtain a third, and involves either adding white to the hue (tint,) or adding black (shade,) or adding a mixture of white and black — grey — to the original color (tone, also called greying a colour.)

The Linking Paradigm

The very first instance of links coming up on the Internet saw the colour blue become synonymous for links. As it happens, this is still a predominantly used colour to denote links and even new users seem to understand the concept of linking through to another website when the links are in blue, as opposed to when they are red or green.

However, this begs the question as to which blue is the most suited?

An extremely dark shade of blue would make it hard to differentiate from the neighbouring text, which is most often black in colour. A very light tint would make it tough to spot in the first place. While the blue hue is, itself, the best suited, tones closer to the Facebook Blue have been all the rage — believe it or not, half the time with the website owners themselves not noticing the fact!

Take a look at the first Facebook, called The Facebook, which Zuckerberg & co. launched for lucky fellows with a .edu email address:

Now, years later, the designers at Facebook have chosen to maintain the same tone of blue:

Although the ColourLovers study I quoted above would suffice to understand why Zuckerberg chose to stay with the Facebook Blue, the actual reason is somewhat more surprising.

Why Blue?

Twig host Leo Laporte cites a New Yorker article that says,

Colors don’t matter much to Zuckerberg; a few years ago, he took an online test and realized that he was red-green color-blind. Blue is Facebook’s dominant color, because, as he said, “blue is the richest color for me – I can see all of blue.”

While that explains why Facebook stuck with their tone of blue, it still does not explain why other websites would find it advantageous to switch to/stay with blue — especially for links.

First of all, blue is the original link colour on the internet. It has been so ever since people began using the Web and it still is. Secondly, most browsers come with blue as the default colour to denote links on sites which otherwise have an undefined parameter for this. And, considering that more than half of the internet users around the world either do not know or do not bother to customise the default settings their browsers come bundled with, blue tends to remain the link colour.

Some link-filled websites, like Craigslist, have nearby colours like purple as their link colours and people seem to be well-suited to this. Also, some people argue that blue stands out. I beg to differ: colours like red and even orange outdo blue when it comes to gaining our attention; however, what they ought to say is that blue being a cool, dynamic colour makes reading through a website easy on the eye.

Think about it: my own website you are now reading from has predominantly blue links! As one, Emil Kostov, puts it,

Most colors distract and make the human eye focus on them while blue act as a transparent palette for 65% of time spending watching the main background aka index space. It is well known also that blue color is the nirvana for the brain.

And that is the story of Facebook Blue. What are your opinions? Do you fancy blue as the norm for linking on your own website? Do you prefer other sites switch to blue too? Or will red do?

On the honourable Indian road laws

The reason why Indian road laws are so honourable is because, to a new visitor, they humbly make themselves inconspicuous, bordering on invisibility. On further examination it becomes clear that they do not exist. At least they are no longer in active practice. Continue reading